National Post (Latest Edition)
Ford makes bland his brand for next election
Tone set with radio ads, throne speech
It turns out that Ontarians only got a two-week break between the end of the federal election and the beginning of the provincial one. The Ontario election isn’t until June 2, 2022, but that’s not going to stop Doug Ford’s PC government from running in campaign mode for the next eight months.
After a happy summer of touring the province distributing money, Ford switched gears this week with a series of radio ads boosting him, while attacking his Liberal and NDP opponents. His government also produced its first throne speech since 2018, a document decried for its blandness and its failure to provide a sweeping vision for the future.
With those two actions, Ford set the tone for his campaign and gave major hints as to the content of his re-election platform. Ford wants to scare voters away from supporting the NDP’S Andrea Horwath and the Liberals’ Steven Del Duca, while reassuring them that he won’t do anything upsetting, like being overly conservative.
The radio ads remind listeners that Del Duca, a former provincial cabinet minister, and former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne were the ones who brought Ontarians high electricity bills and meagre increases in long-term care beds. Another ad says that Horwath wants to raise taxes and is a politician “who says one thing and does another.” Allow yourself a small smile, when you hear Ford, the former tax cutter, now advertising himself bragging that his PCS are “the party saying yes” to spending money on “affordable housing” and “building highways.”
The PC government’s throne speech on Monday was just as unexciting, but surely that was the point. Don’t expect surprises or big new ideas from the new Doug Ford, who now resembles former PC premier Bill Davis more than he does the brash political upstart to whom Ontarians gave a majority in the last election.
The new Doug Ford points with pride to the government’s record on managing the pandemic, which takes a certain amount of brass considering the volume of complaint from those who think the premier either restricted freedoms too much or restricted them too slowly. Small-business owners, a core PC constituency, got hammered by draconian restrictions that favoured big businesses, and schools were closed in Ontario longer than anywhere else in North America. But the pandemic is abating in the province now, and the PCS are likely betting that memories are short.
The throne speech did point to the weakness of Ontario’s health-care and longterm care systems, a weakness readily apparent during the pandemic. The PCS rightly blame past federal and provincial governments for underfunding and inaction. Expect to see Ford running as the champion of spending on health and long-term care, too. These are important issues one would have associated with the Liberals in the past, but the Liberals can’t seem to get that brand association back without reminding people of how badly they screwed up both files back when they were in government.
The old Doug Ford promised to cut the second-income tax bracket by 20 per cent, a move that would have really helped the middle class. It was a promise he did not deliver on. The new Doug Ford says he will avoid “painful” tax increases or spending cuts, relying on economic growth to balance the budget. It’s the PC version of saying the budget will balance itself.
But then, that thinking seemed to impress Ontarians when they voted heavily for the Trudeau Liberals in the last two federal elections, so Ford and his team are probably in sync with the public mood on this one, even if it is bad fiscal management.
Ford is certainly in a favourable position as he begins his unofficial campaign for re-election. The pandemic has compelled his government to spend a lot of money, always popular with voters, and it has obviated the need to deliver on his balanced budget promise.
The results in the last federal election might give the PCS some pause. The Liberals won 77 seats in Ontario, the federal Conservatives only 37. That sounds ominous until one considers Ford’s opponents.
Horwath will be making her fourth attempt at getting elected to lead the province. If voters didn’t choose the NDP when its fellow progressives, the Liberals, were nearly wiped out, why would they choose the NDP now? One might assume that the Liberals will do better in 2022 than they did in 2018, if only because they can’t get much worse than seven seats.
The Liberals’ problem is their leader. Del Duca is not only unknown, but his uninspiring personal presentation doesn’t exactly scream “your next premier.”
Ford has positioned himself in the middle of the road, where Ontarians generally like their politicians to be. It’s not very exciting, especially for core PC supporters, but the late Bill Davis wasn’t wrong when he said “bland works.”
DON’T EXPECT SURPRISES OR BIG NEW IDEAS.